Motorcycle Diaries is a film that chronicles the early travels of Ernesto “Che” Guevara and his friend, Alberto Granado. It attempts to show the evolution of Guevara from a med-student to a social activist on his was to becoming the famous “Che” for which he is remembered. Although, the film is based off of Ernesto’s actual diaries the film makers took cinematic liberties with his travel history, some of his political intersts, and his participation in the Cuban Revolution.
Guevara is presented in the Motorcycle Diaries as a first-time traveler. A young man finally getting out of his upper-class bubble and seeing the world. Eduardo Elena’s, Point of Departure: Travel and Nationalismin Ernesto Guevara’s Argentina article disputes this fact by pointing out that this wasn’t Guevara’s first time traveling. In the film he tells Alberto he has never traveled before but Elena says that his upper middle class socail status afforded him the opportunity to go on vactions with family and travele as a teenager before embarking on this particular journey. Elena points out that it is widely believed to have been this “journey across South America” that opened Ernesto’s eyes to the sufferings of the people as he left his “familiar life in Argentina” in 1951-1952.
Motorcycle Diaries shows Guevara constantly disregarding his privileged socail staus in order to experience his travels as a common person. Elena believes that this was one way that Guevara began to show his non-conformist attitude toward conventional society, his non-conformist travels had a profound impact on how he viewed the world around him. Ernesto had the ability to choose to rough-it and this gave him a unique perspective to observe the plight of the porr he encountered on his travels:“His (Guevara’s) travels offered a rejection against prevailing class norms, cultural expectations, and the political trends of the 1950s.”(Elena) This choice is exemplified many times in the film by his efforts to collaborate with the people they encounter along their travels instead of paying htme services or shelter. Alberto always tried to trade their ability as doctors for room and food. Ernesto wanted to encounter people and places that were different from the urban areas he was familiar with.
Guevara was very much influenced by the people he met along this journey but Motorcycle Diaries takes many liberities when associating those enounters with Ernesto’s political interests. Elena points out in his article that the audience of Motorcycle Diaries does not get any insight into the political environments of the countries Guevara travels through. Paulo Drinot, author of“Awaiting the Blood of a Truly Emancipating Revolution: Che Guevara in 1950s Peru,” argues that the absence of this knowledge lead to an absence of how the political climates affected his mindset, the film only shows audiences how he was affected by the social climate. He says that because there are very few references to political situations in his diaries, an extreme shift to an idealist, as Morotcycle Diaries protrays, would be unrealistic. The first instance of his political interest in the film come from his trip to Peru when Pesce gives him a copy of Seven Interpretive Essays on Peruvian Reality. The film juxtaposes shots of Ernesto reading the book with certain situations he comes across in his travels, which leads the audience to believe that this is where he got his inspitation to become a revolutionary leader. Drinot says that this although it is clear Guevara is influenced by the work becaus of his acknowledgement of it in Guerilla Warfare,”To Doctor Hugo Pesce: who without knowing it perhaps, provoked a great change in my attitude toward life and society,” the way it is presented in the film portrays a “hastened political awakening” for Ernesto that does not align with the entries in his journals.
Guevara was also portrayed in the film as someone deeply moved by the situation of the Native people, such as the Incans and the miners. But in Zulawski’s article Ernesto’s “lack of knowledge about working class, peasants, and radical movements made him unaware of what alliances would be useful to him” in his Bolivian camgaign. The film and Drinot both agree that he was deeply impacted by their desperate situation, we see his empathy in the film for the mining couple and the lepers at the settlement. And Drinot states in his essay how upset Guevara was that the government and members of the upper class did not treat natives equally.
Guevara’s participation in the Cuban Revolution was one of the most interesting things about the articles and I was disappointed to find it pretty much excluded from the film. Zulawski mentions his role as a comandante who taught new recruits military tactics and helped the illiterate learn to read and write. Elena’s theory that Ernesto’s experience as a traveler that chose to exist in povery and was always on the move in remote areas lead to his actions as a revolutionary guerrillero was a very smart correlation and an interesting avenue that could have really contributed to the film because it uses his journey to explain his furure actions.